Skip to main contentSkip to accessibility services
7 min read
No Ads

What Causes a Back Itch & How to Find Relief

Tooltip Icon.
Last updated October 27, 2020

Back itch questionnaire

Use our free symptom checker to find out what's causing your itch.

Reasons for why your back is so itchy can include an allergic reaction from certain hygienic products, chemicals, or plants. Another itchy back cause is shingles, also known as herpes zoster. Read below for more information on causes and how to relieve your back itch.body

Back itch questionnaire

Use our free symptom checker to find out what's causing your itch.

Back itch symptom checker

Back itch symptoms

A back itch can be a bothersome symptom, especially since it can be in hard to reach area. There are several potential causes for a back itch, that may or may not involve a rash. Although scratching may provide relief, the underlying cause should be identified to prevent any skin damage.

Common characteristics of back itch

Scratching associated with a back itch can cause breaks in the skin that can lead to bleeding or infection, often further exacerbating the issue. You should try to avoid the urge to scratch.

Common accompanying symptoms

In addition to itchiness, you may also experience the following symptoms.

  • Pain or tenderness
  • Numbness or tingling
  • Rash
  • Redness
  • Warmth
  • Blisters or bumps
  • Dryness
  • Changes in skin texture: Skin becomes scaly, leathery, or papery

These symptoms may be localized to one area on the back or spread throughout the back. However, it may be difficult to see any skin changes without a second pair of eyes. On the other hand, a back itch may not be associated with visible symptoms at all. Therefore, following up with your physician for proper treatment is important.

Back itch causes

An itch, also known as pruritus, occurs due to irritation or stimulation of cells and receptors on the skin, mostly related to nerves. Multiple conditions can stimulate these nerve cells and cause itching. The following details may help you better understand your symptoms; however, you should see your physician for a proper diagnosis.

Localized causes with rash

Skin conditions that involve a rash may include the following.

  • Dermatologic: Many skin conditions such as eczema, hives, psoriasis, and a variety of other illnesses that specifically affect the skin can result in localized itchiness on the back. Often, such conditions are also associated with symptoms such as redness, blisters, or flaking. On the other hand, skin that is simply dry due to old age or temperature changes can also result in itchy skin.
  • Allergens: The skin works primarily as a protective barrier and is very sensitive to environmental factors. Allergens can include drugs, topical treatments such as soaps or lotions, certain fabrics or metals, plants, foods, and a variety of other substances. Itchiness serves as a warning from using these irritants.
  • Infectious: Multiple infectious pathogens, including bacteria, viruses, and fungi can cause itchy, localized infections of the back. For example, varicella zoster is a virus that causes shingles, a very painful and itchy rash that often affects the back.

Back itch questionnaire

Use our free symptom checker to find out what's causing your itch.

Back itch symptom checker

Localized causes without rash

Localized causes of a back itch that are not associated with rash or skin changes are rare and usually related to psychogenic (a psychological origin or cause rather than a physical one) causes.

Generalized itch

Generalized (all-over) itching on the back may be a sign of an underlying systemic condition. A variety of illnesses can cause itching, including the following.

  • With rash: Metabolic conditions such as diabetes, severe renal disease, and thyroid disease can result in itching that can be associated with a visible rash.
  • Without rash: Conditions that affect the nervous system such as shingles, diabetes, and multiple sclerosis can also result in itching of the back and other parts of the body. The itchiness is generalized and the term “neuropathic itch” is often used to describe itching that occurs due to such causes. Blood conditions, such as anemia and leukemia, can also cause generalized itching without rash in addition to fatigue and weight loss.

Allergic contact dermatitis of the back

Allergic contact dermatitis is a condition in which the skin becomes irritated and inflamed following physical contact with an allergen. Common products known to cause allergic dermatitis include plants, metals, soap, fragrance, and cosmetics.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: back redness, back itch, scabbed area of the back

Symptoms that always occur with allergic contact dermatitis of the back: back redness

Urgency: Self-treatment


A dermatofibroma is a common skin growth that usually appears on the lower legs, but may appear anywhere on the body. These growths are benign (noncancerous). Dermatofibromas are most common in adults and are rarely found in children.

Symptoms include a hard, raised growth that is red, pink, ..

Shingles (herpes zoster)

Shingles is a painful rash that results when the varicella zoster virus (VZV) — the same virus that causes the chickenpox — becomes reactivated. It results in a painful rash of small fluid-filled blisters (vesicles) over a single strip of skin on one side of the body...

Back itch treatments and relief

At-home treatments

You can stop or prevent many causes of back itch with simple lifestyle changes.

  • Keep the skin adequately moisturized: We often overlook the back in skin moisturizing regimens, predisposing it to dryness. Using unscented, dermatologically tested lotions and moisturizing creams on the back can prevent dryness.
  • Avoid allergens: Take note of symptoms that occur after being around certain substances and try to avoid them. It may be helpful to get formal allergy testing in order to be prepared and knowledgeable about your triggers.

When to see a doctor

If your back itch persists despite the home remedies above, make an appointment with your doctor. If by an underlying metabolic, hematologic, or neurologic condition is causing your itch, your doctor will focus on treating that condition first. If your symptoms are due to another cause, he or she may suggest the following treatments that may help relieve your itchy skin.

  • Corticosteroid creams: If your itching is due to a rash or skin disorder such as eczema or dermatitis, corticosteroids are helpful since they are both anti-inflammatory and immunosuppressive.
  • Antihistamines: If your itching is due to an allergic reaction, your doctor may prescribe medications that fight the immunologic response causing your inflammation and itching.
  • Light therapy (phototherapy): This treatment involves exposing the skin to specific wavelengths of ultraviolet light.

When it is an emergency

You should seek immediate medical attention for a back itch associated with abscesses that grow in size or become severely painful, as well as if you have a high fever, nausea, or vomiting.

Back itch questionnaire

Use our free symptom checker to find out what's causing your itch.

Back itch symptom checker

FAQs about back itch

What is postherpetic neuralgia?

Postherpetic neuralgia is a complication of shingles — a painful, itchy and blistering rash caused by the virus varicella zoster. Varicella zoster is a type of virus that can persist in the body and lie dormant in the peripheral nerves for years [3]. When it reactivates, shingles results. Even after the resolution of the initial rash, some individuals may continue to experience severe pain known as postherpetic neuralgia in the area. Often, shingles and postherpetic neuralgia occurs on the lower or upper back.

What is Pityriasis rosea?

Pityriasis rosea is an acute skin rash characterized by red, oval, and scaly lesions that often appear on the back [4]. See an image of pityriasis rosea here. Often, the rash is described as having a “Christmas tree” distribution on the back and can be extremely itchy. Fortunately, this rash is self-limited and often resolves on its own with minimal treatment.

Is a rash always associated with a back itch?

No. Rash is often associated with a back itch in conditions that cause irritation or specifically affect the skin layers. However, in systemic conditions or conditions related to stress or certain allergens, there is often no rash present.

What are the complications of back itch?

Complications of back itch are usually the result of persistent scratching. Scratching can cause breaks in the skin that lead to infection or another skin injury. Furthermore, scratching can lead to scarring and thickening of the skin.

Are my symptoms of back itch temporary or chronic?

Your back itch can be either temporary or chronic depending on the underlying cause. Usually, once the allergen is eliminated or avoided, the back itch resolves. However, back itch associated with chronic conditions such as diabetes or liver disease can persist, especially without adequate treatment.

Questions your doctor may ask about back itch

  • Do you have a rash?
  • Is the red area flaky and rough to the touch?
  • Did your symptoms start after you were exposed to glues, fragrances, preservatives, hair dyes, soaps, detergents, or other common household chemicals?
  • Did your symptoms start after you were exposed to nickel (commonly found in jean snaps, metal pens, paper clips, cigarettes, etc.)?

Self-diagnose with our free Buoy Assistant if you answer yes on any of these questions.

Hear what 2 others are saying
Itchy backPosted January 25, 2021 by E.
So I have been struggling with itchy skin for years, especially my back. But the funny part is it rarely happens until I am about to work out or when my body starts to produce sweat. It mostly happens when I am exposed to heat, that is when I start to notice the itching, especially at my back. Up until now, I have no idea what causes this chronic skin itch and I was hoping for a solution.
Intense back, arms, front itchingPosted April 13, 2020 by G.
Over a month ago, I woke up from a good night's sleep with severe itching on my back, shoulders, in between my breasts, & upper part of my stomach. I washed off with hot water but this did not help. I rubbed baby oil on the area. It helped for about an hour then the itching was back. I sprinkled a powder with cornstarch & this too was a temporary solution. My friends recommended vinegar, Calamine lotion, healing creams, etc., but nothing has worked. I wake up in the middle of the night due to itching. I started wearing gloves to bed to I would not infect the sores over my back. Baby oil gives me the most relief but not for a very long time. HELP!!!! I have NEVER had this before.
Dr. Rothschild has been a faculty member at Brigham and Women’s Hospital where he is an Associate Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School. He currently practices as a hospitalist at Newton Wellesley Hospital. In 1978, Dr. Rothschild received his MD at the Medical College of Wisconsin and trained in internal medicine followed by a fellowship in critical care medicine. He also received an MP...
Read full bio

Was this article helpful?

20 people found this helpful
Tooltip Icon.


  1. Pruritus. U.S. National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus. Updated June 6, 2018. MedlinePlus Link
  2. Informed Health Online [Internet]. Cologne, Germany: Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (IQWiG); 2006-. Eczema: Light therapy and oral medications. 2017 Feb 23. NCBI Link
  3. Shingles: Hope through research. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Published March 2015. NINDS Link
  4. Pityriasis rosea. American Academy of Dermatology. AAD Link